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The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.

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Monday
Oct152012

Week 11

Hausmann, The Thief

Between New Oxford Street and the British Museum, in that warren of Bloomsbury side streets, was a betting shop. Hausmann looked through its windows like a shopper queuing for the sales. He could see paper cups of tea and betting slips changing hands across the counter, but everything above chest height was obscured by posters declaring the latest odds on dogs and football and local hunts.

Hausmann entered and a bell jangled above him as the shop door opened and closed. There were more than a dozen men – no women – packed into the dingy room, listening to one of two competing wirelesses in opposite corners. Each radio was rattling out a staccato sports commentary, one slightly higher pitched than the other.

He pressed sideways through the crowd and picked up a betting slip and a stubby pencil from the shelf that ran along the wall and found himself a shoulder-width gap between two punters. On his left was a gawky young man with buckteeth and unfortunate ears. To his right, a short older gent was knocking out a briar pipe against his heel.

Hausmann wrote the word ‘SOUND’ on his betting slip and nudged it along the shelf to his right. There was a barely noticeable pause in the hammering of the pipe, then its owner leaned forward and scrawled another word under Hausmann’s: ‘SAFE’. He turned away from the shelf and after a moment Hausmann followed him into one of the neutral corners away from the wireless speakers.

“I never took you for a gambler, Hausmann.”

Nor was he a talker. He skipped the chitchat about retirement and old times and instead cut straight to the reason he was there. The photographs. The shard of metal and the troublesome issue with the x-ray machine. He told his story and studied the other man’s reaction. There was no sign of surprise.

“If you will go scrabbling about in other people’s embassies...” He took out a pouch of cherry scented tobacco and began stuffing the pipe. His name was Scrivener.

“My first word of advice would be to drop this line of enquiry immediately. But I assume that advice would be ignored, or you wouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Hausmann nodded for him to continue.

“You won’t get any answers from inside the Service, I’ll tell you that for nothing. After that mess at Midway, I didn’t want to slap you down so hard – I mean I don’t like a whitewash any more than you do. But there came a point when even I was told to stop asking questions. Leaving the Service when you did was probably the best decision you ever made – and digging all this up again would probably be your worst. Are you sure it’s a good idea?”

It was an empty question. Scrivener could tell that no amount of reasoning was going to sway Hausmann. He sighed and lit his pipe with a long match. The tobacco glowed in its bowl.

“The similarities may be purely coincidental. Two crime scenes, more than a decade apart – you could be seeing connections that aren’t there. Try to stay objective. You used to be good at that.”

There was a note of concern in Scrivener’s voice, but it was hard to tell if he was concerned for Hausmann or for himself. Either way, he took his time as he dragged on the pipe, sending clouds of sweet smelling smoke up to the ceiling.

On one of the wirelesses, the race was entering the final furlong. The gawky youth had money riding on it, and together with a handful of other concerned punters yelled support and abuse at the radio as the commentator gabbled through to the conclusion. Scrivener crumpled a betting slip and dropkicked it into a growing pile of discarded scraps.

“I can still pull a few strings. I’ll get you each country’s official personnel listings for the Midway Treaty signing and for last week’s conference. Maybe you’ll find a few common factors.”

He patted Hausmann on the shoulder as he headed to the door. “Look east, young man...”

And with a clatter of the bell, Scrivener was gone.

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